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New and Imaginative Itineraries - And Greek Cruising

by Mark Tre' - "The Cruise Examiner"

As Seabourn takes delivery of its three new 450-berth ships and shows no sign of giving up its three original 212-guest yachts, we are bound to see more itineraries from them. Equally, Costa has come up with a new and imaginative itinerary for its Costa Magica with next summer's "European Capitals" cruise.
And Azamara will be offering itineraries to and from Dublin. Meanwhile, in Greece, now that the government has finally overturned its damaging and restrictive cabotage laws, it is likely we will see much more growth there.


New and Imaginative Itineraries

With Seabourn now about half-way through its acceptance of its new 450-guest Seabourn Odyssey, Seabourn Sojourn and Seabourn Quest, we are going to see more change in this sector. With three ships of this size, Seabourn is beginning to resemble the original Royal Viking Line, which in 1972 introduced three ultra-luxury 550-berth cruise ships that ranged the world and hardly ever repeated an itinerary.

The main difference is that Royal Viking's ships were only 21,000 tons each (38 tons per passenger) when new, whereas Seabourn's newbuildings measure 32,346 tons each (72 tons per guest).That is almost 90% more space per guest. The other is that while each Royal Viking ship was owned by an individual owner, Seabourn has behind it the might of the biggest cruise grouping in the world.

Seabourn began developing new itineraries when it decided to send its generation one Seabourn Pride to the Far East as a pathfinder to develop new and fascinating destinations for the old crowd. But rather than list a whole series of new ports, which can get awfully boring, we are going to pick just one new itinerary that marks a big change for Seabourn.

New in 2011 will be an 18-night ex-UK cruise that leaves Southampton on April 27th and calls at Gibraltar (a popular port for Brits but one that does not get as many calls as one might think), Palma de Mallorca, Valencia, Civitavecchia (for Rome), Livorno (for Florence). Alicante, Lisbon and Leixoes before returning to Southampton on May 15. Now there are several things going in favour of such an itinerary. Number one, Seabourn has a large following in the UK who will welcome the opportunity of being able to cruise from the UK without having to fly.

Number two, through parent company Carnival UK it has a multi-year contract with the owners of the Port of Southampton. And number three, Seabourn president and ceo Pam Conover, and equally three of the new ships' captains (including Capt Ian McNaught from QE2) are British. This is not to say that Seabourn is a British company, but it is certainly beginning to exploit its British connections.

The first of these new ex-UK itineraries actually took place two months ago, when the Seabourn Sojourn's maiden voyage, a 14-night British Isles and Iceland itinerary from Greenwich to Dover was followed by a 14-night Baltic cruise from Dover to Dover. Previously, although Seabourn ships were fairly frequent visitors to London, their itineraries were usually one-way cruises that involved sailing out and flying back or vice versa.

Seabourn Sojourn will of course also be doing her first World Cruise in 2011, when she sets out from Los Angeles to Southampton on January 5. Look for more new itineraries at www.seabourn.com

Still within the Carnival Group, Costa has pulled a rabbit out of a hat - two rabbits in fact - with its new 10-night "European Capitals" itinerary for the 2,700-berth Costa Magica, completed in Italy in 2004. These new departures will leave mainly from Dover (with three from Harwich) and not from Southampton, chiefly because of steaming distances to and from these European capitals.

The first rabbit is a totally new itinerary that manages to do the North Sea without falling back on the tried and tested (but almost boring for their repetition) Norwegian Fjords or Baltic and St Petersburg itinerary. The new cruises will start in Amsterdam and take in Hamburg (158 miles from Berlin, but a destination in its own right), Copenhagen, Oslo and Edinburgh (all three capital cities), Le Havre (127 miles from Paris) and Dover (80 miles from London).

The second rabbit is that after years of saying that Costa would not base a ship in the UK because the group was already represented there by Cunard, P&O and Princess, it will now be selling cruises on the Costa Magica from Dover, and this only three months after closing its own London office. Marco Rosa, former UK managing director, is now area director based in Genoa in charge of the UK, Scandinavia and South Africa while Costa's UK sales representatives report to Genoa.

Dover departures for the Costa Magica's "European Capitals" cruises are scheduled for June 8, 18 and 28; July 8, 18 and 28, and August 7 and 17. There will also be three departures from Harwich on May 29 and again on August 27 and September 6, which will call at Invergordon (175 miles from Edinburgh).

Dover stands to gain then from eight new Costa departures in 2011, which will be a relief for them after losing NCL to Copenhagen in 2010 and MSC to Southampton in 2011. Costa has not had a UK-based ship since the Enrico Costa operated from Southampton in the early 1990s.

It had been rumoured earlier that Pullmantur Cruises might be doing something similar with the ports of Amsterdam, Dover, Le Havre and Bilbao on a 7-night round voyage, with the Atlantic Star, but at the moment that ship is replacing the Pacific Dream on her Lisbon and Malaga departures. The idea of this more Iberian itinerary was that passengers would be able to board at any port, and of course such an itinerary would also include Spain. Nothing further has been heard of this idea.

Meanwhile, in the market between Costa and Seabourn, Azamara Club Cruises last week announced that the 694-berth Azamara Journey will introduce two new itineraries that will include Dublin as a terminal port in 2011. The first will be a 12-night Iceland and Norwegian Fjords cruise leaving Copenhagen on August 17 and finishing in Dublin on August 29, while the second will be an August 29 departure that will also call at Cork on the way south to Lisbon, where she will arrive on September 8. While there will be no Dublin-Dublin cruises the port does gain an important cruise ship turn around.


Greece Gives Up Cruising Monopoly From Its Ports

Greece is known by many as the birthplace of Mediterranean cruising, especially after its government financed the building of a number of new cruise ships in the 1950s to add to the many converted ships that were once operated by Greek owners. Yet names such as Chandris, Efthymiades, Epirotiki, Kavounides, Nomikos and Typaldos are all now gone from the scene.
The only exception is the survival of the famous Chandris "X" (the letter Chi) on the funnels of Celebrity Cruises, the line they founded and later sold to Royal Caribbean. Other recent lines such as Royal Olympic, formed by merger, and Festival Cruises, formed with Greek backing, are also gone - both went bankrupt in 2004.

Today, the Piraeus-originating cruise business is a shadow of what it could have been, with Louis Hellenic Cruises and one other operator sharing the port with the many other callers from outside that sail from ports in Italy and Turkey. These outside ships have been prohibited until now from offering cruises from Greece. But all that is about to change. Although outside lines have been able to start or end a cruise in Greece that have not been able to operate round voyages from Greece.

Finally, as predicted by The Cruise Examiner on June 9, 2008 ("A Return to Greek-flag Cruise Ships?") the Greeks have come to their senses and realized that excluding outside lines from their market has only damaged their economy and their ports. Last week, the Greek parliament finally removed the main restriction that has governed cruising from Greece for the last several decades, which required that all cruise ships operating from Greece be of Greek registry.

International cruise companies will now be able to embark and disembark cruise passengers at Greek ports once they have signed a formal three-year contract with the government. Ships that make round-trip cruises to and from the same port, with a minimum duration of forty-eight hours and carrying at least forty-nine passengers, will be just required to remain in Greek ports for a minimum of eight hours on turnaround days.

Local sources say this latest move could create an economic boom worth a billion euros a year. The trick will be to turn Greece into a major cruise origin point once more, with all the benefits that will bring to terminals, stevedores, luggage handlers, hotels, shore operators and airlines, just to mention a few.

At the same time, the Greek Government will assist in the training of more seamen and shipboard personnel in order to promote on board employment. Watch this space and we will being you more news as developments occur.

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